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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Pit of madness

It is one ugly landmark that many residents in my home province of South Cotabato would rather not have in the future. I am referring to a pit—projected to be “approximately 500 hectares in area and approximately 800 meters deep”—that will be left gaping when a proposed copper-gold mining project ends its mining life in an area straddling the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.

The ugly, gaping hole, noted Bishop Romulo dela Cruz of  the Kidapawan Diocese, will “have a depth double the height of the Empire State Building, and can potentially be added to the infamous list of top 10 open pits visible from outer space.”

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In the recently held international conference on mining in Mindanao jointly organized by the Ateneo de Davao University and the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines (CEAP), the proposed Tampakan Copper-Gold Mine Project to be operated by the foreign-controlled Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) became one of the hotly discussed issues.

Other horrifying scenarios were also raised during the conference. For example, the  proposed Tampakan project is within 10 kilometers of Mount Matutum, an active volcano. “You cannot mine within 10 kilometers of an active volcano,” pointed out Clive Montgomery Wicks, a conservation and development consultant specializing in the impact of extractive industries.

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“It’s ridiculous, irresponsible. It’s the height of madness to even think of doing it,” he said, also citing “the grave danger posed to peoples’ lives and property by the 2.7 billion tons of toxic rock with a high potential for acid drainage that will be accumulated on top of the mountain.”

Wicks is not exaggerating. The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report that SMI submitted to the DENR cited that its project “has been given an ‘Extreme’ consequence classification, during operation and closure, due to the high potential for loss of life and high environmental damage if failure occurs.”

Indeed, for years now, mining advocates have been trumpeting the potential economic benefits of the country’s 7.1 billion metric tons of metallic mineral reserves, like gold, copper and nickel.

Glossed over though is how the present mining regime has even stunted the growth of our local economy and left communities affected by mining operations still among the poorest in the country. In fact, in 2010, the mining industry contributed a pittance to our economy: it added only 1 percent (or only P88 billion gross value) to the GDP; 4 percent of exports ($2.032 million) and one-half percent of employment (or only 197,000 jobs).

Also, there is the issue of the direct link between mining and human rights violation in the country today. This nexus was noted by United Nations Special Rapporteur Rodolfo Stevenhagen, who cited in his 2003 UN Report cases of resistance and opposition to the entry of mining projects—protests that are often countered by military force, resulting in killings, destruction of property, forced evacuation, etc., particularly affecting indigenous peoples.

Mining today, particularly in Mindanao, is  “about short-term benefits for some at the cost, however, of serious long-term environmental destruction for all; it is an activity within a policy framework that provides foreign investors with a legal permit to rape our environment with impunity,” noted Jesuit Fr. Joel Tabora, president of the Ateneo de Davao.

It will do well for the Aquino administration to seriously consider the following recommendations made in the “Mindanao Declaration” which was issued by the conference participants: the repeal of  Republic Act 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995; the revocation of Executive Order 270-A (issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) on the revitalization of the mining industry; and an “immediate mining moratorium and suspension and cancellation, if applicable, of all mining operations” while the relevant mining policies are being reviewed.

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It also recommended the enactment of the consolidated alternative mining bills pending in Congress. Among these bills is the consolidated People’s Mining bill (House Bill 4315) that, among other purposes, would require  the creation of a Multi-sectoral Mineral Council (MMC) to be formed in the provinces or towns that would be granted the sole power to approve and monitor all mining applications.

Our present Constitution, ratified more than 25 years ago on Feb. 2, 1987, mandates the State to exploit our mineral resources through direct undertaking, joint venture or co-production arrangements. Its clear intent is for the State, as owner of the mineral resources, to receive its fair share in the profits from the exploitation of our mineral resources. However, it is unfortunate—also immoral, and even criminal—that a quarter century after, we have yet to see the government and the people getting a “reasonable and fair share” from the huge profits amassed by these mining companies—not even a single centavo.

Measures that have been or are being adopted by different groups—like the anti-open pit mining ordinances in South Cotabato and Zamboanga del Norte, the proposed anti-mining ordinance in Davao City and elsewhere—are signs that people have come to realize the ruinous effect of  irrational mining on their lives. The people can no longer allow, without regretting later on, the unbridled rape and pillage of our remaining resources and environment to satisfy the insatiable lust of a few for profit.

We should no longer allow the madness of a few to destroy the future of the next generations of Filipinos.

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TAGS: Mindanao, mining, South Cotabato
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